It’s no secret that choosing the right college major is an important decision all college students face. But in the new normal—where social distancing and tough economic times are the reality, students have never been more uptight about the best college major to select.
Before you get too twitchy, take some time to slow down and reflect on your options. Despite the boatload of changes happening in the world, there are as many (if not more) career choices up for grabs as there ever was. Plus, with remote learning now fully a thing, it should be easy to find online courses for your major once you decide.
In this article, we’ll talk about our top tips for choosing a college major, starting with some basic information and finishing with additional resources. Whether you can’t seem to come up with any ideas, or you have so many majors in mind that narrowing down your choices feels impossible, our recommendations can help.
What Is a College Major?
Let’s begin by defining what a college major is. The most basic explanation is that a major is a group of college courses in a particular area of study you must complete before obtaining a degree. Some majors—like humanities and liberal arts—are broad, while others are designed to prepare you for a specific career path.
In most cases, the courses you need to graduate are divided between core classes that all students must complete and studies related to your major. The ratio is roughly 50/50. The coursework of your major serves to demonstrate the knowledge you’ve gained while completing high-level work in a selected area of study.
Sometimes, students major in one subject and minor in another, and some even major in two subjects simultaneously.
Why Is Choosing a Major an Important Part of the College Experience?
A few students are ready to choose a major right out of the gate when starting college, but the vast majority are still unsure about what they want. You may worry that arriving undeclared is a waste of time or money or that you somehow don’t measure up. But it should be a comfort to know that around 80 percent of all students in the US change their major at least once during college. It’s not a sign of a character deficiency.
In fact, we argue that choosing a major is a vital part of the overall college experience, and waiting until you are already in attendance at school may actually be an advantage.
As an incoming freshman, you may not yet have enough information to make this kind of decision. You might not even know what subjects you enjoy or the vocation you want to pursue. Forecasting the entire future of your career with limited life experience can slam doors on your future that you never even knew were open.
You will find that spending time in a different place, meeting new friends from all over the world, and taking part in alternative activities can profoundly alter your perspective. You will develop additional interests as school progresses, and this can help you reflect on your future goals with more clarity and assurance.
What Should Students Consider When Choosing a College Major?
Although everyone has unique considerations when choosing a major, there are some tips that are pretty universal for everyone.
Think About Whether You Will Also Need an Advanced Degree
About one-third of all undergraduates go on to graduate school. In some fields, an advanced degree is encouraged. In other fields, like medicine and law, it a requirement. If you don’t have any desire to continue your education after graduation from a four-year program, you will want to be sure you can meet your career goals with only your bachelor’s degree in hand.
Will a post-bachelor’s education be necessary to compete with other qualified candidates in your field, or is it a nonessential investment that won’t improve your odds of finding a good job?
Consider a STEM Discipline
Some advisors feel that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors are almost guaranteed to lead to high paying careers. Indeed, students anxious about being able to find a job after graduation may be best off starting out in a STEM field or pursuing a course of study eventually leading to a professional degree.
But though it’s true that STEM majors are right for students who are genuinely interested in and devote themselves to their fields of study, many students who choose STEM majors just for a higher salary are likely to be disappointed.
A STEM major involves a significant academic commitment. If you end up being unhappy in your field, you could find yourself committed to a career you don’t enjoy because of debt that can only be paid off by pursuing a position in a STEM field.
Check Colleges for Available Offerings
Perhaps you have a college major or two in mind already, but you haven’t made a final decision. If you are leaning toward a specific learning track, be sure that your target college offers the major you are interested in. You don’t want to choose a major that isn’t even available at your school.
While you’re at it, you might even want to check out the school’s matriculation rates and find out what their reputation is for job placement after graduation.
Explore Your Interests
The oft-overused statement “find your passion” is perhaps more fitting for college students than any other group. Finding your passion involves taking part in a wide range of activities and interests to discover what truly makes you tick.
To do this, you should probably leave your comfort zone a little and participate in a few things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Join a club, network with a new group of people, or try an extracurricular activity you’ve never attempted before.
You may (actually, you will) surprise yourself by discovering you have gifts and skills you never knew about. Choosing a major can become easier as your interests expand.
Look at Employment Rates and Potential Salary
While some students attend college for the simple love of learning, others are intent on making their education pay off. Ideally, one’s motivation should lie somewhere between these two. If, like most people, you will eventually need to support yourself after college, consider the employment rates for your potential career.
You may have your heart set on studying marine biology, but if you plan on living in Wichita forever, your employment prospects will be grim.
It never hurts to choose a college major with future earnings in mind. Some sectors pay better than others. If making above-average earnings is a priority, look at majors with bright career prospects and plenty of job opportunities for entry-level graduates.
Examine Your Personality Type
Who are you? Do you even know? Many experts believe that those who are the most successful at college are students who align their majors with their personalities. Finding something that is a good fit for your unique character traits certainly makes sense, and if nothing else, exploring your personality type is one way of narrowing down your choices of a major.
Though there are many such quizzes available, one reliable test is The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Many Fortune 500 companies use the test to study the qualities of potential hires, but it can also be a useful tool for students trying to determine the right major. It’s also a fun way to learn a little more about who you are.
Give Some Thought To the Workload
The assignments, exam preparation, and overall workload of some majors are more demanding than others. Those who major in social sciences can expect to write up to 92 pages yearly, while engineering majors should anticipate around 19 hours a week of class prep time. And if you’re considering declaring your major in business, you will probably be reading up to eight hours a week, so you better enjoy it.
Whichever major you settle on, do your research first to find out how rigorous your workload will be. Only you know what you can handle, but if you bite off more than you can chew, you could be setting yourself up for burnout.
Don’t Forget About Online Courses
Students who already have a full schedule of career or home commitments might find online majors to be a more flexible option. Without the added financial burden of meal plans, room and board, and other fees, remote learning is typically more cost-effective than traditional in-person studies. Plus, the money you save can allow you more flexibility should you change your mind about your educational path.
Contemplate Designing Your Own Major
If the traditional offerings just don’t seem to fit with what you want to accomplish in life, consider designing your own major. Several colleges allow students to choose an individualized major. Sometimes called an “interdisciplinary” or “customized major”, there are some extra approval steps involved, but it may be worth it if you have the initiative.
Don’t Be Afraid To Change Your Mind
As your world opens up and you start to learn more, you will naturally uncover new and exciting interests. This could mean that you discover something so compelling that your newfound passion alters your educational trajectory altogether.
As long as you inspect the pros and cons, there is no reason you should be afraid to change your major. You could spend a good part of your life in a particular field. Just because you thought you had things already figured out doesn’t mean you can’t make some rearrangements. It’s your future, after all.
Are There Any Other Resources To Help Choose a College Major?
If you still need help picking the right major for you, there are plenty of available resources to turn to. From quizzes to websites and articles, check out these tools for helping you decide.
- University of Texas—A wonderful interactive website called Wayfinder, designed to help you explore majors and career paths.
- Loyola University Chicago—Free 40-question quiz to help narrow down your degree options
- LiveCareer—Free comprehensive worksheet on choosing a college major, plus a companion article.
- Zety—A long but informative blog post on choosing the right major
- Truity—A free Holland Code Career Test to help you choose a major or career
- Experiential Communications—An excellent article on how to choose your major using social media as a tool.
Final Thoughts on Choosing the Right Major
It’s certainly true that pursuing a major in a particular field can reward those students who are interested in their disciplines and make an unwavering commitment to them. But students feeling an overwhelming amount of anxiety about choosing a major or who are worried they might regret their decision should step back, take a deep breath, and use some of these suggestions.
Unless you are committed to the hard sciences or engineering, you should not be excessively concerned about choosing a major immediately. Rather, spend the first part of your education taking courses around a wide variety of different topics, then choose a major based on the classes they’re interested in. This will also help you maximize your academic performance.
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- How Do I Find a School’s Job Placement Rate?